As she barreled through the windy Colorado valley rich with wildflowers and shrubs, encompassed by enormous mountains of Autumn spruce, the muscular Buckskin showed no signs of slowing down. Her hooves pounded hard at the terrain, while the rest of her legs made circular motions that resembled a traveling locomotive’s coupling rods. She was a majestic beauty–towering in stature, haughty in posture, and graceful in stride. Her black mane seemed ready to fly away while it tugged hard at her neck, complemented by a head that properly tilted downward and gazed ahead. Her name was Cheyenne. Atop of the horse’s back was a leather saddle, quite minimalist in design, devoid of anything fancy or special, and seated was her master Thomas—a manly teenager who wore a brown cowboy hat with one hawk feather, a grey wool coat, and cowhide chaps over his jeans. As well, an old forty-five seventy lever action rested in his horizontal saddle scabbard. He generally only rode the long and narrow mountain trails nice and slow to take everything in, but now he had to hurry home before dark by cutting through the valley. A cabin with a wood-burning stove awaited his arrival.
Thomas and Cheyenne arrived at the cabin on time. After unsaddling and giving her a brush-down, he penned her with the other horse–a beautiful Chestnut mustang he spontaneously captured during an elk hunt and later domesticated for several months. The horses grazed heavily in preparation for Winter, and there was a small stream nearby which Thomas used to refill their drinking tubs. After leaving them alone in the wooden corral, he grabbed his rifle and entered the cabin wherein he lit a wood-burning stove for warmth and oil lamps for light. Incredibly motivated to build the place, he rode all the way from New Mexico in order to find a suitable property for construction due to a distaste for cold, shelterless slumber. Such commitment to a wild existence, wilder than the typical lifestyles of young men, emanated from a burning desire for adventure, perhaps a calling from life itself, and thus the boy was completely uninfluenced by those who warned him not to live alone in the wild. He desired a dangerous life–to him, that was the only way to live.
As Thomas sat on a rocking chair next to the fireplace, he played his harmonica. He always improvised and never took any lessons, because he naturally could vary his tones to produce something uniquely beautiful. The music had a discernible and reflective nature about it, as if it was working its way through a puzzle instead of merely expressing emotional sounds. It was so incredibly clear and directed, relaxing yet stimulating to most subtle minds, but my words on the matter will never do it enough justice. It was one of his ways to wind down before sleep since he had to maintain his home, take care of the horses, ride the horses, hunt for food, chop wood, check his animal traps, and many other tasks that exhausted him every day.
If at nighttime he wasn’t playing his harmonica, he would write long poems that reflected a zest for life. Somehow he wrote exceptionally well, even though he lacked proper schooling. What an understatement! He was a profound author– full of original ideas, well out of the ordinary, and far beyond his time. Few had read his wondrous works, but the ones who did immediately recognized his talent. Of course, he had many glitches and blemishes to fix but experienced writers he met saw past them and took note of his enormous potential. Perhaps they understood his uncanny ability to beautifully express ideas with a flawed technique— like a philosopher full of contradictions and errors yet able to blow people away with undeniable eloquence. Thomas had not the faintest clue of his gift’s magnitude, as he did not realize most people spent entire lifetimes pursuing such insight–one that was within him since his birth.
He had still been playing his harmonica when something unusual happened, so unusual as to arise anxiety in what was supposed to be a relaxing night. Addressing the surprise was going to require a certain carefulness unbeknownst to most. It was a loud banging that rattled Thomas out of his musical trance, and he immediately reached for his rifle and pulled the lever to load a cartridge. Someone had knocked on the door! Yet no one ever came to the cabin before. Thomas wanted to keep it that way.
Thomas: “Who are you and what is your business here?”
There was a short pause, during which Thomas considered opening fire.
Stranger: “Uh… Sorry to bother ye there mister at this time of night! I’m really cold and I ain’t got nothin’ to eat! Can you help me out?”
The voice sounded deep and raspy, quite bitter in effect, a sort of accent that repulsed most judgmental people. Thomas wondered what to do. It was very odd for a stranger to come so late.
Thomas: “Don’t try anything stupid.”
Then Thomas opened the door with one hand while the other pointed the rifle. There he was— a tall and imposing old man in a black cowboy hat, brown coat, and jeans. He had short grey hair, a thick mustache, and penetrating green eyes. His wrinkled olive skin oddly resembled leather. Strapped to his back was a muzzleloader and a rucksack. He smelt like a heavy cigar smoker.
Stranger: “Why hello young man. Name’s Robert. Mind if I come in?”
Thomas: “Sure, there’s squirrel meat and coffee. You can put your bag and firearm up against that wall.”
Robert stepped in the cabin and did as he was told.
Robert: “That’s mighty kind of you to offer Mr…?”
Robert: “You see Thomas, I ain’t eaten since yesterday and I won’t say no to a hot drink. I feel mighty obliged to return the favor to you somehow, but there ain’t nothin’ I can offer. I ain’t got one good thing to give you.
Thomas stared at Robert.
Thomas: “What were you doing out in the cold like that at this time of night?”
Robert: “Well… I’ve been elk hunting. I got me a pretty wife back home that badly wants to try some. She ain’t never had elk meat before, and I’m fixin’ to make it happen.
Thomas sat Robert down at the supper table, poured coffee for the both of them, and served him leftover squirrel meat.
Robert: ”What’s a young man like yourself doing out here anyhow? You got a family around?”
Thomas: ”No I’m alone. I built this cabin, that chair you’re sitting in, the table, and just about everything else on my own. I could live like everyone in the city, but it’s not for me because…”
Robert: ”By the way, you want some chewin’ tobaccer?”
Thomas: “All yours.”
Robert put a hefty pouch around his lower gums and proceeded to spit in the coffee cup.
Robert: “I was like you when I was your age. Ain’t nobody could tell me what to do or how to go about my own damn business. I did everything with my own two hands. I was mighty proud of that.”
Thomas: “Well I’m not proud. I live a simple life, and I don’t do much more than necessary to survive. Life is deathly silent out here. While most view silence as worthless and avoid it like the plague, I experience great insight in silence. When I sit and become a part of self, answers about the universe, life, and God come to me. It is when I stop searching, that I find. It is when I stop knowing, that I understand. For far too long, I searched for meaning in books, religion, philosophy, and conversation, all of which are useful. However, meaning is a human creation in the first place. Life is purposeless– it just is! If humans disappeared tomorrow, the stars would still shine bright, the birds will keeping singing, the great rivers will keep flowing, and the trees will keep swaying. Do you ask for the meaning of a beautiful waterfall? How about a sunset? Anyhow, I experience my existence; I need not analyze it. All of these answers I sought, much simpler than most could ever fathom, were here the whole time. I now experience immense joy in what I once considered torments. To master happiness is to master life. When I clean the hooves of my horses, I do not focus on the pain in my back from hunching over. When I chop wood, I simply chop the wood, letting the existence flow through my being. I do these tasks with such tranquility of mind, devoid of regret and apprehension, that I am finally living again. While most put off living until tomorrow, I simply live here and now…. Does that make any sense, Robert?”
Robert: “You sound quite clever boy. Why ain’t you in school?”
Thomas: “I don’t belong in school. Never have, never will. You learn what they want you to learn for their purposes and they don’t want you to go outside of their box, but there’s…”
Robert: “Yeah, all them books they make you read seem like a buncha damn hooey to me. Ain’t no better education than military service and a farm to work. War and toil on the field make the man.”
Thomas and Robert began to immerse themselves in each other’s life stories. Thomas told him about all of his perilous adventures in the wilderness, his animals, and his life back home. Robert talked about his gallant war stories, his children, and his lovely wife. Midnight was near. At one point, the conversation became quite philosophical, as the two very different men offered each other their own wisdom. Robert treated Thomas like an adult, and this delighted the young man. Thomas despised all of the authority figures in school that lumped him in with the other students who were dull and shallow.
And the cabin was truly blissful and conducive to the meditative conversation. A great-horned owl announced her presence nearby. Gray wolves howled off in the distance every now and then. The wind calmly howled. The dynamic wilderness always seemed to be in a marvelous dance, making great contrast between silence and movement, as the wildlife flowed with one clock, one rhythm. And the wood-burning stove popped and crackled, while it heated the room. The conversation had gradually become more quiet and lovely.
Robert: “Son, I’ve been meaning to request an itsy bitsy little favor.”
As he made the statement, his eyes squinted and he made a gesture by squeezing his thumb and index finger.
Thomas: “What do you need?”
The old man stroked his facial hair with his left elbow on the table and spat in the cup. Then he looked up at Thomas.
Robert: “Well you see Thomas… It ain’t no fun out there. It’s mighty cold! I’m a rugged man like yourself, but ain’t no damn warrior can handle that kinda pain.”
Robert spat again in the cup.
Robert: “I’ll tell you now boy… I hate the cold.”
Thomas: “So do I.”
Robert: “A mutual consensus! Ain’t that what they call it back in school?”
Thomas: “Or a consensus.”
Robert: “Well then, I concede Professor Thomas! Anyhow… Do you know, which I think you do, what I’m tryin’ to get at?”
Thomas: “You want to stay in my cabin for the night.”
Robert: “Well well well that’s pretty close… Actually very close! But I had something just a little bit different in mind.”
Thomas: “What might that be?”
Midnight came. Robert took the tobacco pouch out of his mouth and put in the cup. Then in an exceedingly slow manner, slower than ever, a smile formed at the corners of his lips.
Robert: “I want your cabin…. Period.”
The cowboy kept his subtle smile, subtle in many paradoxical ways!–subtly friendly, subtly aggressive, subtly disturbing, subtly shallow, and subtly smug–sort of like a smirk. The two men stared each other to the ground. Thirty seconds of silence must have passed before Thomas sprung for his rifle that rested against the wall behind him.
Robert: “Not so fast boy. Bahahaha-ho-ha!”
As Robert cackled the diabolical laugh, he cocked the hammer of his revolver under the table. It was a Peacemaker.
Robert: “Don’t you even think about grabbin’ that rifle, or I’m gonna shoot you down and let the wild hogs outside take care of the rest. Then I’ll keep that Buckskin of yours and kill the other one for good old horse meat.”
Thomas hesitated, but then returned to his seat and decided it was best to listen. All that he had worked to build, including his life, fell in the hands of an evil man.
Thomas: “Why Robert? I have fed you. I have also offered a place to stay out of the cold tonight, and now you point a colt at me?”
The man had not a semblance of remorse shown on his face. Instead, he grinned like a madman, revealing his rotten teeth and gums.
Robert: “That’s right boy. If you obey my commands, I will let you live. But if you don’t… then you’re just dead! Hehehe-hahahahaha!”
Something was dreadfully wrong with the man. Thomas intuitively sensed it in the beginning, but never gave it enough thought. The bizarre mannerisms, the aloofness, and the evil eyes that looked empty and lifeless all gave subtle clues as to what the man was all about.
Thomas: “What exactly do you want?”
Robert: “For starters, I want you to stay right there while I come and get your rifle. You best not try anything boy!”
Robert stood up like a sassy dictator. Then he marched over and grabbed the rifle off the wall, stepped away from Thomas, unloaded its ammunition, and sat back down at the dinner table. He turned serious.
Robert: “Now… I want you to listen very closely. This next part is very important.”
Thomas: “I’m all ears.”
Robert stared past the boy for a few more moments, almost blankly.
Robert: “You ain’t gonna live here anymore. This is my place now. I need it. It’s for me not for you. I stake my claim. So yeah, you need to leave tonight.”
Thomas: “This is my home that I built. How could you do this to me?”
Robert: “I don’t give a damn boy. If you shut your mouth, I just might let you live. You don’t belong out here anyway. You’re too young.”
Thomas: “I’ve been fine for a long time out here on my own until you came along.”
Robert: “I’m thinkin’ maybe I ought not trust you will leave and never return.”
And then something happened–everything changed. The air grew thick, and something peculiar began to develop in Thomas—a rage, a venom! It was unlike any other, as it combined with a surge of adrenaline that made the boy feel fearless. Thomas did not care anymore, and so he began to make a contemptuous look towards Robert. Then he got sardonic.
Thomas: “You really FAUS—cinate me, Robert.”
Robert: “Just shut your mouth boy.”
Thomas: “You were so FAUS—t with your pistol…I didn’t even see it coming.”
Robert: “Why thank you.”
Then Thomas got louder.
Thomas: “You are quite a FAUS—hionable man! Look at you with all them feathers in your hat!”
Robert: “If you don’t knock it off, I’m fixin’ to blow you to pieces… real ‘faust’ boy!”
Thomas began to yell at the top of his lungs like a deranged lunatic.
Thomas: “You are a FAUS—cist, FAUST-idious yet without FAUS-hion!… FAUS! I said FAUS!”
A thunderous noise occurred somewhere in back of the dark cabin. It grew louder and louder like an approaching freight train, so incredibly quick that there was no time for Robert to react. Thomas covered his head and ducked under the table, while the massive beast leaped over it towards Robert and chomped him in the face. As Robert was bulldozed to the floor, he screamed in agony, and Thomas crawled under the table to the other side and wrestled for the killer’s Peacemaker. After a few shots went off, Thomas successfully snatched it and ran several feet away while the beast nearly tore Robert apart.
Immediately the beast let go, retreated to Thomas’s side, and began to bark at the bloodied intruder.
Thomas: “Atta boy Turk.”
The loyal and majestic grey mastiff took a seat on Thomas’s boot and quit barking. He turned his head around and looked up at Thomas to request a pet.
Robert: “You! You dirty rotten punk! I’m fixin’ to kill you, you stupid, imbecilic, pathetic… rascal!”
Then Thomas bellowed a boisterous laugh as Turk growled.
Thomas: “Didn’t I mention that I have a dog?”
To be continued